A pilot project that will see police officers replaced by Crown prosecutors at bail hearings began this week.
As of Oct. 24 the Crown will conduct all bail hearings in Edmonton between the hours of 8 a.m. to midnight. The “graveyard shift” of midnight to 8 a.m. was eliminated for the duration of the yearlong pilot project, due to lack of resources.
The change will give the government insight into the implementation of the Alberta Bail Review’s primary recommendation: that Crown prosecutors replace police presenters at bail hearings.
Prompted by the fatal shooting of RCMP Const. David Wynn, the review found that Alberta is the only province to offer 24-hour bail hearings. It is also the only jurisdiction where police appear on behalf of the Crown during the majority of these procedures – although the legality of that is currently under review by Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Neil Wittmann.
Wynn was killed in January 2015 by career criminal Shawn Rehn. Rehn was out on bail at the time of the shooting, despite more than 30 outstanding charges against him. His bail hearing was conducted by a police officer.
“This pilot project should give us information about the impact of Crown presenting at first appearance bail hearings, and what the best approach is moving forward,” said Alberta Minister of Justice Kathleen Ganley in a written statement.
A similar province-wide pilot project was conducted in 2008-09. Crown prosecutors were originally phased in to replace police presenters in both Edmonton and Calgary. But the project was short-lived. Despite showing improvement to the overall integrity and effectiveness of the bail process, the project was scrapped after only a year due to fiscal restraints.
“I cannot comment on decisions made by the former government,” said Ganley. “However, our government is committed to ensuring that we have an effective bail system in Alberta – it is important for both public and officer safety, and for ensuring that accused persons are not detained unnecessarily.”
The government hired seven Crown prosecutors and six legal assistants for the pilot project, at a cost of $325,000 for the first three months alone. The estimated cost of a province-wide rollout, which could be mandated by Wittmann’s decision, is estimated to be at least $4.6 million. This includes the hiring of approximately 30 new staff.
According to the Alberta Bail Review released last spring, police appear on behalf of the Crown at 99 per cent of first-instance bail hearings.
Ganley is seeking clarification from Court of Queen’s Bench on whether or not police are able to act as prosecutors for the purposes of first appearance bail hearings.
The matter was heard in court last Wednesday. Whittmann reserved his decision to a later date.